The state is getting $25 million in federal funds to upgrade Interstate 12 in St. Tammany Parish near the site of a four-person fatality earlier this year, officials said Thursday.
The money will be combined with $7.2 million from St. Tammany Parish and at least $3.8 million from the state.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, made the announcement after being notified of the award by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
The money was requested on July 19 in a letter from Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville.
Chao notified Cassidy, Scalise and others that the state will get the $25 million sought as well as $16.2 million to upgrade La. Hwy. 1 and other work near Port Fourchon, the staging area for much of the state's offshore oil production.
In a statement Thursday, Cassidy said the I-12 money "will eliminate unsafe bottlenecks in St. Tammany Parish."
Officials said the dollars will be used to improve a bottleneck that extends for 3.8 miles between La. Hwy. 21 and U.S. Hwy. 190.
On May 26 four people were killed, and others injured, in crashes involving 18-wheelers on I-12 near Covington.
St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston on Friday released the name of the driver of an 18-wheeler involved in a fiery crash May 26 on …
"It is going to widen the stretch where the accident occurred," Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said Thursday.
In an interview, Scalise said he discussed the project with Chao in one-on-one meetings in August and November.
"I made it very clear this is a top priority," he said. "This is going to alleviate a lot of traffic congestion."
Scalise said DOTD figures show there have been more than 900 accidents since 2013 in the section of I-12 targeted for improvements.
He said the I-12 project is getting the maximum allowed under the federal grant, called BUILD.
After the accident, Pat Brister, president of the parish, asked Gov. John Bel Edwards for immediate help to accelerate roadwork.
The governor said the state, which has a $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, could not afford the improvements.
State officials said then that they would launch road safety assessments to come up with short-term solutions.
At a press conference Thursday evening, Brister said the accident in May made the project more vital to her.
"It was emotional," she said of the loss of life. "It just made us more determined to do whatever we needed to do."
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Brister said she could not stress enough how hard Louisiana's congressional delegation worked to land the money. "They really went to bat for us," she said.
St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister said state Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson committed to give the …
The state already had one project on the drawing boards – without the needed funding – that would widen I-12 on the section that will benefit from Thursday's announcement.
The other plan would add more lanes to I-12 from U.S. Hwy. 190 to La. Hwy. 59.
The segment getting the grant money is the most critical part, according to parish spokesman Ronnie Simpson.
Gov. John Bel Edwards says the state lacks the money needed to widen Interstate 12 in St. Tammany Parish at this time despite a May 26 acciden…
Wilson said the state may provide $5 million for the upgrade, not $3.8 million. "It is part of a larger project that we have on the books but just have to push back because of a lack of available resources," he said.
Wilson, who took part in the press conference in the St. Tammany Parish Council chambers, said bids on the project could be let as early as November or December of 2019 and work start as early as February 2020.
He declined to predict how long the work will take, in part because of weather unknowns.
About 100,000 vehicles use that part of I-12 daily, and 24-hour work may not be possible because of that volume.
The $16.2 million will help finance a new bridge and roadwork connecting South Lafourche Airport, La. Hwy. 1 and Port Fourchon, Cassidy said.
Chao traveled to New Orleans in August and, joined by Cassidy, marked the awarding of $45 million in federal funds for the Belle Chase Bridge and tunnel replacement project.
"During our phone call this morning I gave a big thank you Secretary Chao for listening to our needs and approving these resources," Cassidy said.